It's been a while. The election flattened my spirit in so many ways I wondered for the first time in ages whether writing stuff made any difference. Of course it doesn't but what choice do I have? So, I'm teaching English Composition this January at a well regarded Catholic University in Chicago. In order to construct a syllabus I perused a number of other instructor's syllabi and was surprised and frankly dismayed at the number of opinions and judgments masquerading as helpful suggestions contained in these documents. One instructor's syllabus is nearly twenty pages long and advises students that he has other jobs and may not be thinking about their particular issues after class. Is he kidding me? Why would any college freshman care about what some middle-aged pedant was thinking about if it wasn't about her grade?

Seriously, sometimes I wonder whether most of us recall our youth at all. This leads me to a bout of self-examination where I try to remember ever giving my son any useful advice besides he should be kind and not get arrested. Also, I'm pretty sure I suggested he make his bed often and not to go out with depressed girls. He didn't listen to those last two and he has been arrested but he's kind when he isn't making fun of me. My parents had tons of opinions but very little practical advice. I recall being advised about posture, reading, and trying not to be fascinated with sub-par people. Also, they were vehement in their defense of the poor, the disenfranchised and that all humans should be treated equally no matter their race, economic status or religious beliefs. Actually, the last one isn't true because my parents, lapsed Irish Catholics, had a secret aversion for Protestants based on genetic loyalty and a general contempt for organized religion. They also were staunch supporters of eating breakfast and coffee. They loved their coffee-ground from beans, Melitta filter, drip etc. I understand the coffee thing but the Protestant thing is bad. Once I was talking about a potential boyfriend and I saw my parents exchange a look when I mentioned his surname. It occurred to me they would prefer I dated an axe murderer to a Protestant.

Maybe I don't believe in the right things. I once had a student challenge a grade I gave him in Honors English and after listening to him whine for a bit I said I'd give him a better grade. He looked pleased but then he said, "Mrs. Moynahan, you don't care, do you? You think grades are stupid. You just randomly decide that something is an A or a B." It's true, I fear. I'd start out all goal-oriented and clear, 'norming' the essays until I just couldn't read another sentence like, "Macbeth is a tragic hero because he's sad and he isn't afraid of his wife." If someone made me laugh or forced me to think, they usually received a better grade. If any of my ex-students are reading this I will deny everything. Anyway, you knew I was that kind of person. I wanted you to be happy and not to worry too much. The students who get the 20 page syllabus guy will do everything in their power to please him and he'll still think they are unworthy of his great intellect.

People tell me things. The other day a man at the Christmas tree place told me he ran ultra marathons, was 60, had just been married for the first time, his wife was Jamaican and made excellent jerk chicken, he was happy and needed to lose a bit of weight. Then my husband came back with the receipt for our tree. Once a cab driver pulled over and turned around and told me he was sure his wife was cheating on him back in Russia, she had once cheated on him with his younger brother, he didn't like most Americans and I had beautiful eyes. Luke was very little and when the driver burst into tears he was scared so we got another cab. "Mama," Luke said, "everybody tells you things." I told him that was because I was kind and that he shouldn't marry a depressed woman and he should always make his bed. I didn't bring up getting arrested because the previous week I had told him about all the terrible consequences of drug addiction and when I ran out of ideas he looked at me and said, "What's a drug?"


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